“While the juvenile justice field is making progress in reducing confinement, juvenile justice systems and the elected officials that oversee them are still making policy choices that rely on the most expensive, but the least effective, response to delinquency.”

Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration

According to Justice Policy Institute’s 2014 report, Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration, “the average costs of the most expensive confinement option for a young person”—based on a survey of state confinement expenditures in 46 states—is $148,767 a year. For New Jersey, youth incarceration is more expensive: as of 2014 New Jersey spends up to $196,133 to incarcerate one young person each year (the twelfth highest expenditure of the forty-six states reporting). This outrageous investment in a system that fails children, their families, and our communities is also financially wasteful.

Community based care is shown to not only be more effective but much less expensive as well. According to the Institute’s report, while the average cost of youth incarceration in New Jersey is approximately $537.35 per day, the associated cost of keeping a child in a community-based program with wrap-around services has a daily average cost of $75.

New Jersey’s youth facilities remain expensive to operate despite how underutilized they are. As the Institute reported, as of March 2016 the New Jersey Training School for Boys (the state’s largest youth prison), which has a maximum capacity of 330 youth, housed 140 young people. As of March 2015, the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, the only youth prison for girls, housed only eight young women, approximately seventeen (16.7%) percent of its maximum capacity of forty-eight.